Ryle and Wittgenstein carved out knowledge-how (craft) as irreducible to the traditional propositional knowledge, Ryle gave accepting the irreducibility the scary name of anti-intellectualism. SEP even has an article about it, which also mentions in passing the third kind:"There's the kind of knowledge you have when it is truly said of you that you know a person—say, your best friend". Reducing the middle kind to direct acquaintance seems very narrow, Through a Glass Darkly poetically suggests that the scope may be broader:"Suffering, the sacred, and the sublime are concepts that often surface in humanities research in an attempt to come to terms with what is challenging, troubling or impossible to represent. These intersecting concepts are used to mediate the gap between the spoken and the unspeakable, between experience and language, between body and spirit..." In addition to episteme and techne Greeks also had a third word for knowledge, gnosis, with plain meaning of something like insight (gnostics later appropriated it for mystical revelation), as in insight into things, or knowledge-into if you will.

The technical term for suffering is qualia, and history suggests interesting dynamic for some of them. The quale of heat was reduced to Brownian motion, and we have the RGB theory of color vision, although of course "warmth" is not quite Brownian motion, nor is "color" a weighted average of RGB harmonics. Still, while an irreducible element of insight remains, propositional models can go some way. My favorite example is the modern mathematical model of continuum, we had many questions on motion, divisibility and Zeno paradoxes illustrating that it is a very crude approximation of the continuum of insight as in Aristotle or intuitionists, see Is Aristotle's resolution of Zeno's paradoxes vindicated by motion in the intuitionistic continuum? Becoming generally seems to be unaccountable for propositionally since it is not a state, or a succession of states, that obey self-identity law. As for the other SS a leading elistemologist of science once wrote three Critiques, the last two of which are dedicated to the sacred and the sublime respectively.

The issue is sometimes dissolved by declaring SSS to be outside the scope of science, but I came to doubt that such a move can work. They are aspects of reality, if they indeed furnish irreducible knowledge it has to be accounted for, if obliquely. What is its relation to the other two knowledges? What are the consequences for scientific/physicsl knowledge, usually assumed to be propositional? E.g. if SSS are irreducible "book of nature written in the language of mathematics" and "theory of everything" seem doubtful even on a materialist position. But what exactly is or is not irreducible in them (continuum seems like an instructive case study)? Is there contemporary work on non-propositional epistemology beyond knowledge-how? Most interesting aspect to me is methodological: how taking into account existence of knowledge-into helps determine what shape (propositional) scientific theories should take? How can they better compensate for the inadequacy of their medium of expression?

  • 2
    Possibly it would be helpful to focus your question. Do you discriminate three types of knowledge: propositional knowledge, knowledge-how, and knowledge-into? If yes: Please state your definition of knowledge covering all three types and emphasize the characteristic differences of each type. It would be helpful to illustrate each type by a typical example. Finally, why is it necessary to deal with all three types in a scientific way? What would be the benefit? – Jo Wehler Jan 11 '16 at 2:08
  • Have there been any rational philosophical studies of meditation? That looks like one tree you might want to bark up. – Alexander S King Jan 11 '16 at 3:46
  • 2
    @Alexander Neuroscience started to investigate meditation. As a teaser see Singer, Wolf; Ricard, Matthieu: Hirnforschung und Meditation. Ein Dialog. The book has not been translated into English, but it results from a dialogue in English. – Jo Wehler Jan 11 '16 at 4:09
  • @Jo Wehler The linked SEP article describes the three types and gives examples, but the demarcation and possible relations among them are open and controversial, e.g. physicalists maintain that all knowledge is propositional and moreover physical, but even what that is is debated. Acquaintance knowledge is very briefly discussed in the article on qualia, but it is very narrow plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia-knowledge/#4.5 Knowledge is relevant information most broadly (fact, skill or grasp) in the question, and I wonder what role non-factual part can play in epistemology of science. – Conifold Jan 11 '16 at 22:51
  • 1
    @Conifold Under these circumstances, what about making two questions from your post? Question 1: Elaborate your definition of the three concepts and ask whether they make precise at least some ideas from the literature. Question2: On the basis of your definition state your original question. – Jo Wehler Jan 12 '16 at 4:12

If you take knowledge that gets things done as one form, and knowledge that captures data as a second, and your third entry is messy, emotional and mysterious, to my mind, you are setting up a trip around the one of the three elemental configurations that maps directly onto Lacan's four discourses, which we can map further onto the powers of the sphinx. The point is not to be abstruse, but to have any model of knowledge that actually got used and included similar divisions.

There is a point in noting the greater similarity to part of a set of four, instead of looking at this as a Fixed/Mutable/Cardinal configuration (equivalently Real/Ideal/Symbolic), other than the difficulty of fitting the latter. I think, given your examples, that you are vaulting over a more obvious form of knowledge that includes aesthetic decision-making, the ways we 'read' people or situations (even if these are just recursive 'theory of mind' predictions) and the selecting out of which experiences constitute stories with significance. Quale, familiarity, suffering and numinousness, etc. are on a layer below that after individual rational psychology, intersubjective 'chaos' and the irreducibilities of mutual social manipulations have been removed.

So I might suggest that this third/fourth form of knowledge is the hysterical factor to a world that is first analyzed in terms of effects and contents, (and then maybe philologically/deconstructively/aesthetically.) Since 'hysterical' is provocative, I want a synonym. I am going to use both words, but alternately. Hopefully one will be a foil against the annoying nature of the other.

If the Master discourse is Will and the University discourse is Knowledge, the Analyst discourse is clearly Daring, and the Hysterical discourse is left to be the enigmatic Silence.

The Hysteric's discourse does what is necessary for knowledge that cannot be captured or used to be embodied, and not lost. Silence is a posture that allows the universe to be solid, with all of the movement introduced by the three active principles grounded out so that the three other sorts of power have a stable position from which to arise, and back to which to return.

So what use does science make of Silence? I think that one form of Silence is embodied in the structure of emergent principles that allows for the separation of disciplines. By solidifying quantum motion, chemistry can have a domain of study. Orbitals are not a lie, but they are surely less than real. This knowledge that what goes on down there should only be considered when the normal way of looking at things fails is a proper and productive Hysterical repression.

The layering also allows each different science to have its own paradigm and its own character. Like the way someone is your friend only because you know them in a given way, you can like Chemistry and dislike Physics even though Chemistry is Physics. So you can look at Silence as the thing that holds a paradigm in place. Paradigmatic function is about questions that one does not ask, because we have decided, quite properly, but kind of oddly, not to ask those for a while, while pretending to keep an open mind.

Your notion of qualia is also intimately tied up, in my mind, with the way in which emergent properties like 'temperature' are very real, but don't exist independently. Temperature has in common with redness that it represents a statistical convention that suppresses detail to good effect.

Looking at how these principles are part of the process of science might indicate how science itself should incorporate them into its explanations.

These are aspects of the process of scientific decision-making itself, which requires its own separate model so that it can bounce back and forth against the theories of what has been observed and predicted.

If you do not have a theory of observation its requirements and its limitations, even after factoring out biases due to social and intellectual factors, your model of the observed phenomena will have systematic flaws that cannot be removed by any process.


If one aims at perfect representation, that doesn't include the "entering into" at all. Representational thinking is a form of "gnosis". So the question makes no sense.

Addendum explanatory:

If the "entering into" means something like what Socrates means when he demands that one has to believe what one is saying, because only in that way, he says, can one be persuaded, and so change or learn or "remember" (as Socrates says it), then one can say science can perfectly grasp this with representation at least in principle. But it doesn't make any sense to speak of "entering into" the qualia of the "gnosis" with a science that represents, or gives one something there to reckon with, since it is identical, as it were, to the world or universe simply, as one knows or thinks it. Gnosis moves in leaps and is not causal, science manipulates regularities which themselves refer to the measure of the gnosis as what is comparable or Same in the things it deals with. Gnosis, in this sense, if it is thought as an entity, only shows that science is not what it claims to be, not objective or, what is the same, relative to space and time, but relative to the Gnosis. Self knowledge, oneself, may be an entity, and not what it was always claimed to be, a telos or "norm", a guiding meaning, but, yet, it is still the unassailable measure of any science. It is that science.

  • I am guessing you mean the title question? But why should science confine itself to "perfect representation" (whatever that is, it looks oxymoronic to me)? I guess, "entering into" means finding out something like Nagel's "what it is like". According to him, grasping it requires developing a vocabulary that is neither subjective nor objectifying, and perhaps methodology to go with it. As I recall, the idea of "understanding" sciences goes back at least to Dilthey, phenomenologists made similar suggestions. – Conifold Jun 20 '17 at 1:55
  • I mean that we are the ones for which causality, time and space as the "condition for the possibility", is what we let the sciences be relative to. It is us who know the world that way, causally. The objectivity consists only of this way of making time space into an object, for a mathematical model, a thought experiment, a foundation to build on. That thought experiment is understood, as the objective. It was never so before Galileo. It become more enforced with Descartes, and had its apotheosis with Kant. Now it is taken for granted. – user26700 Jun 21 '17 at 22:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.